BY: Muniza Tariq
“You look lovely!” said Avi.
“And…?” Meera knew more was coming her way. She held her phone farther away from her, tilted her face so her chin was jutting out, and sucked her cheeks in.
“Do I have to say it even if I don’t feel it?”
“No!” she barked.
“You look lovely, babe, but not thinner. I am sorry but I don’t see it.”
Meera sighed. Quickly, she moved on to discuss other things like what was Avi eating, how often he was cleaning up the house, how bad was the spread in his area, and other drab affairs. Her distance-husband’s cruel admission simmered fresh in her mind.
Like dealing with the pandemic, managing a long-distance marriage and frantic sanitization wasn’t enough, she had to prove that she was getting thinner! That too on a camera, the very device guilty of adding ten pounds on everyone without any exception.
After three years of a fairly smooth courtship, when Meera and Avi got married in January 2020, the pandemic seemed every bit real but somebody else’s problem. Sure they would come up with a vaccine! Sure they would find a cure! Sure it would be over soon!
When Avi flew back to Canada after ten days of their marriage and Meera bid him a teary goodbye, she knew she would join him as soon as her application was through. But March knocked with bad news. When the lockdown was announced, Meera’s first thought was why me! Of course with time she understood that what she was treating as a personal tragedy was really a universal one and that she would have to wait it out, with sanity and grace. What she was thankful for was that she had retained her one-room set in Saket and had a space she could call her own. She had spent a week with her in-laws then a week with her folks before returning to her apartment.
All of April went into adjusting to the new norm: WFH. Meera worked in an advertising agency. She worked at odd hours through the week but WFH turned out to be a more demanding animal than she was ready for. Endless video conferences, phone calls, not to mention the pandemic paranoia, worried parents, concerned in-laws, and a husband in a different time zone, everything left her so exhausted that the only thing she could turn to for comfort was food.
To her, food seemed completely selfless. It gave taste, satisfaction, comfort, and the much-needed breaks from calls and presentations. With time, cooking became more than a skill she had learned for survival; it became the center of her existence. Yes, there was something therapeutic about chopping and slicing and grinding, most of her friends agreed, What she didn’t take into account was the fact that most of her approving friends stayed with families. So what they cooked was sought by many mouths whereas what she cooked —potatoes of all kinds, versions of biryani, no-bake cakes, and cookies—was just hers to eat and keep!
Love is tough to hide; love for food, especially so! It wasn’t till June end that her husband voiced his concern and they had their first virtual but real fight where Meera kept repeating that Avi was no longer interested in her and Avi kept clarifying that the only reason he was concerned was that he loved her and wanted her to stay fit like before. It had ended with Avi apologizing for being blunt, and Meera, for stress-eating and not coping with distance-marriage better. Avi promised to be gentle the next time he reminded her to watch her weight. She promised to find time for early morning Yoga or late evening pilates.
On day one she managed to get out of bed at 7 am.
On day two she slept in because the evening was always an option. Till she found out it wasn’t. Again she turned towards her friends, sobbed about how she tried but failed every single day to commit to even 30 minutes of physical activity, and all they told her was: it was like their life story! As long as she was trying! And —a little hesitant—her husband couldn’t set her fitness goals for her! Some of them went ahead and told her she was ‘de-selfing’ way too early in her marriage and she needed to put her foot down.
Now two months had slipped by and she was yet to see any changes in her waistline and her troubled mind craved food as much as she craved results. And this is how it would have stayed had she not shared a screenshot of her video chat as her Instagram post: Our late night chats be like!
She had been careful not to reveal her body, focused on her face, and sucked in her cheeks and clenched her jaw to lend her face a fake definition. Avi, on the other hand, looked drop-dead handsome, his neck long, face chiseled and his t-shirt sitting tight on his lean muscular body. More than anything, he looked effortless hence amazing. So, one of their common friends pointed out:
“If I didn’t know you guys, I’d think @VeryAvi is your toyboy, @MeeraSerene! LOL!”
TOYBOY overshadowed LOL. Meera immediately took the post off. What she also did was vent her anger on her husband. So when he video-called the following night, she disconnected and texted him that she was tired and not in the mood to talk. Avi knew Meera like the back of his hand. He texted her it was ok and she could take her own time to calm down.
CALM DOWN! I will show him how to calm down, she thought as she switched her phone off, stuffed her face with chocolate chip cookies that she had thought she would treat herself to, after the workout but she didn’t care anymore.
She emailed her folks (her father checked his inbox every 30 minutes in the hope of hearing from a publishing house), some of her close friends, feeling victorious about the silent punishment she was inflicting on the man she loved the most.
On the third day, the doorbell rang. It was 10 am. She hadn’t ordered anything. She peeped through the eye-hole and the ground from under her feet shifted.
There she stood, her mother-in-law, looking like the principal that she had been all her life!
She opened the door, faking excitement, and leaned in to hug her.
“What a pleasant surprise, Ma! How are you?”
They sat opposite each other in the sitting area that stretched between the kitchen and her bedroom.
“Surprise? What were you thinking: you’ll switch off your phone and that’ll be the end of it?”
“I mailed dad so you guys don’t worry. I was just…you know…I am trying social media cleanse…”
“Then switch off social media, not your phone!”
“Good that I switched my phone off. That way I got to see you! Come on, what will you have, tea or coffee?”
“I’d like to know your version of the fight.” She stared at Meera, adjusting her thick black glasses.
“Avi called it a fight? He has been after my life to loose weight ever since the lockdown started. I am working day and night, I am cooking, cleaning, trying to keep myself free at night so I can chat with him, see him and all he ever sees is my fat! If food makes me happy, why can’t he be happy for me? Why can’t I catch a break!”
There, she spewed all the venom that she had held back for Avi.
“Did you ever tell him this?” Her mother-in-law was surprisingly calm as she slumped back in her chair.
“I did…I mean…not exactly these words but I did tell him I am overworked.”
“Well, overworked is just one part of it. Your workload isn’t even in your hands! I am not talking about that. I am talking about what is in your hands: the food part and the happiness part!” Her mother-in-law left her spot and walked towards the kitchen. There she found a pan, filled it with two cups of water, and started making tea under Meera’s stupefied vigil.
Soon the two women walked back to their spots and started sipping tea and munched on the chocolate cookies.
“These are really, really nice! You are good at this!” said Meera’s mother-in-law thoroughly enjoying every bite. Her candid praise put a smile on Meera’s face.
“I am glad you like them! I have more. Please take some for dad!”
“I will take them but he is only getting a few. I like to share,” she said, looked at Meera then winked, “but I am shamelessly selfish. As were you, till some time ago.”
Meera, who was about to dunk a cookie into the teacup, stopped midway,
“What do you mean?”
“I mean exactly what my stupid son has been failing to communicate to you! It’s not about losing weight, it is about finding time for yourself, and doing exactly what you used to before you got married before the damn pandemic struck. You used to run, you used to go for weekend Yoga classes, you used to find the time and not excuses. Hell, I once heard Avi crib about you cancelling a date because you had to attend a dance class. I even heard you used to work for a year and travel for a year…You were so – what’s the word – so recklessly me-centric!”
Meera just looked on, struck by her mother-in-law’s words even as realization started crawling back in.
“I miss that woman…” she mumbled.
“Yeah, well, why miss her when you can bring her back?” Her mother-in-law bit into the chocolate cookie and winked once more.
The two women chuckled the rest of the day away. When Meera’s mother-in-law left, she took with her a jar of chocolate cookies, threatened Meera to be ready with more before her next visit, and got her a huge order from a friend who ran a cloud kitchen!
A satisfied smile played on Meera’s lips as she switched her phone on and dialed Avi. He didn’t pick up. It was 6 pm, which was 7:30 AM Canada time. Certain that he was sleeping in, she left him a message: Guess you are sleeping! I am sorry about the whole thing. Let’s talk after 9 pm, my time! I Gotta prep for my first official cookie order!
What she didn’t mention was the Buti Yoga class she signed up for that very night, for nobody else’s sake but for her own.